You’re an aspiring artist or writer. You're a comic lover. Your dream is to make your own graphic novel. Where do you start?
Over the past six years I've released two full length graphic novels, two Oversized One-shot comics, and seven issues of a short lived comic book series. So while I am no Alex Ross, or Todd McFarlane, graphic novel story telling is a love of mine. I'd like to share a few things I've learned to help you get started.
This should be relevant if you are an artist or a writer. For the record, I'm approaching this as an artist.
- Get started. Seriously. Just get started. Yeah, you want to make it your masterpiece, your "Magnum Opus," etc., but let me put you at ease. It won't be your best work. After you make one book, you will probably make another that is even better. You will learn a lot from your first go-round. But seriously just get started. I had no idea what I was doing when I sat down at my drawing table at 5:30 a.m. one Friday morning in 2007. I had some loose ideas, kind of a story, character designs, some visuals I wanted in there, but nothing concrete.
- Stick to it. You will more than likely have a bunch of false starts, but don't sweat it. Stick to it and hammer that thing out of you. It's there, it just wants you to let it out. I've thrown away a lot of drawings in fits of sound and fury because my ideas were not solidified enough to move forward. But once I realized it was not what I wanted, I recalibrated and moved forward. If you're at all like me, you will fall into short episodes of melodramatic despair. Fine, but once that fog lifts, keep at that graphic novel. The process of making art, any art, is both agony and ecstasy. My first book took me about five years to finish.
- Don't Wait Until the Right Time. I'm kind of repeating #1, but from a slightly different angle. Life gets in the way, and if you go with the flow of life, you will get sucked under and you'll never get to it. So get started today. Carve time out daily, even if it's just a few minutes every day, you will build momentum. And once you see those pages begin to accumulate, you'll realize how awesome you are, your confidence will increase, you'll conquer the world.
- Artist, find Writer. Writer, find Artist. Unless you're Jeff Smith, or Doug TenNapel, you will probably not be able to pull this whole thing off yourself. I am not a fiction writer. I actually had all the pages of my book drawn prior to a single line of dialogue being written. (Though I had some epic quotes running through my mind.) Once I tried to start writing and I realized I was terrible at writing, the idea immediately dawned on me to ask my writer friend, Ben Avery if he would be willing to script the book. He heartily agreed to, and he proceeded to bring my story to life.The main point here. Find a person you work well with and make this thing happen.
- Screw Something Up. Growth as an artist comes from taking chances and failing sometimes. If you're not getting pissed at your art regularly and throwing drawings in the trash and spitting on them in disgust on a regular basis, you probably aren't stretching yourself. (Or maybe I'm just a bit neurotic). Terrible things happen when I sit down at a clean drawing table, with a crisp, clean sheet of unscathed bristol board, and a serious demeanor, prepared to make art. Honestly, I tense up and make crap. When I don't worry about drawing perfect and I realize I may bomb what I'm about to attempt, I feel free to be loose, experiment, sling some ink, get my hands, table, paper (and sometimes wall) messy. The goal here is stay loose with your drawing.
- Know Graphic Design Basics. It is a harrowing experience to walk through an artist alley and see an otherwise decent artist's work paired with poor printing, a bad Photoshop logo replete with six different layer effects, images scanned in at too low a resolution and their book laid out in Microsoft Word. If you don't know about these things, talk to your designer buddies and ask them for help. Your stuff needs to look professional.
- Do the Lettering Right. Serious, lettering a comic is an art in and of itself. Honestly I hate it. It bores me. Thankfully, the amazing writer I work with, Ben Avery loves it so he lettered the last couple books we did together. Oh and one last thing. DO NOT... I repeat, DO NOT USE THE FONT, "COMIC SANS."
- Find an Efficient Workflow. Alot of people make fun of Rob Liefeld’s art. I admit, there's issues there. But one thing I've always appreciated about him is that he has a style (like it or not), he knows how to get the job done, and he turns out results over and over again. Efficiency is a smart skill to develop on the graphic novel journey. You have a lot of pages to finish and you need to keep moving.
- Find Seasoned, Virtual Mentors. Chances are if you're creating a graphic novel, you've read graphic novels by people whose work you admire and want to emulate. Well, EMULATE. Over and over again I've referenced the work of Berni Wrightson, Mike Mignola, Frank Miller, Doug TenNapel, and Sam Hiti. Whether it's a page layout, an angle or how to draw something, frequently reference these heroes of the medium. Notice I said reference. Don't knock them off. Reference them. Get them in your DNA and then do it your way. But assemble yourself a small tribe of frequently used virtual mentors for your journey.
- Multiple Ways to Get Your Book into People's Hands. Publish physically and digitally. For a short run, look into publishing through Amazon CreateSpace or a service like Ka-Blam. I am big on quality control and went with local printers so I knew what I was getting. This area can get expensive, so shop around for best price with quality. For digital distribution, consider submitting your book to a digital comics hub like Comixology, or put it on your own site for FREE.
- Get Other Artists Involved. Something I've found to be fun and make things even more interesting (and add pages to your already awesomely impressive graphic novel) is adding a gallery or pin-up section. (No not that kind of pin-up.) Ask a select number of your favorite artist friends if they'd like to do an illustration of your character(s) for your book. Sure, a lot of your artist bros are busy, but a lot of them are probably starved for some kind of validation of their talents and would be happy to oblige you. Make sure you credit them and include their website/Instagram URL though.
So there you go. Hopefully this gives you some encouragement and a few more tools in your tool chest to getting this book made.
Now go do it. That graphic novel is waiting to be let out!